İskender kebap (or Alexander Kebab) – The quintessential comfort food.
This is one of the most famous meat foods of north-western Turkey and takes its name from its inventor, İskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa in the late 19th century.
As a vegetarian, this dish, which consists of marinated and grilled chicken breast cubes over crispy cubes of pide (Turkish flatbread) covered in a hot tomato sauce and a dollop of soothing yogurt, was one of the few good memories of meat that I ever felt a longing for.
Now, that I see things differently, now that I no longer condone with the cruelty of eating animal based products, I thought that this dish – the plant based / vegan alternative one – was missing from the recipe books. I have searched and searched, and couldn’t find a vegan alternative to the traditional Iskender so I decided to create my own one.
Initially I thought of replacing the meat with tofu, but early enough I realised that the flavour was not even close to what I used to remember. Obviously, I know that a dish with no meat will never taste like what it used to taste like, and to be completely honest I don’t think it needs to taste like meat to be delicious and flavoursome (Animals are not to be eaten and their lives are not to be taken! End of story!). But I just really wanted to create something flavourful and juicy, something that would taste better than the traditional meat version. So, I tried replacing the chicken with grilled vegetables (like aubergine, mushrooms, courgette, etc.) which also tastes delicious and is super healthy. But this time, and as per my husband Alexander’s request (Yes! What a coincidence! His name is Alexander as well – Should I start calling him “Iskander” instead? ?), I tried making this with the vegan alternative from Quorn. And yes, I know, Quorn is quite a processed product. But, once in a while (and really very “once in a while”) I think that there is no harm in trying these alternatives. My husband loves it, and because he is not vegan, I have to compromise and make things I know he will fully appreciate as well.
This dish is one that he loves and he keeps asking me for it since we stopped ordering it from our local Turkish restaurant. Hence why, I call it “Alexander’s Vegan Kebab”.
It is the perfect combination of the best flavours offered up in Turkish cuisine all on a single plate – now with a twist. It has easily become by far one of my favourite meals in the world. The yogurt (plant based version – of course!) turns everything tender and the tomato sauce makes this dish an authentic juicy delight.
You can make this delicious Vegan Iskender Kebap at home and it is easier than you think – it requires some advanced preparation, and you may want to prepare the marinade the day before… But it is totally worth it.
- 600grs Quorn frozen vegan pieces
- 2 large onions, grated
- 45 ml / 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 10 ml/ 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 10 ml/ 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 30 ml / 2 tbsp. concentrated tomato paste
- 15 ml/ 1 tbsp. red pepper paste (optional; you can use extra 1 tbsp. tomato paste and red pepper flakes to your taste instead too)
- 30 ml/ 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cups water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 2 green pointy or bell peppers, deseeded and sliced
- 6 thinly sliced pieces of wholegrain pita bread
- 500 gr / 2 cups any plant based unsweetened yogurt of your choice
- Handful of fresh chopped coriander and parsley
- Start by letting the Quorn pieces defrost slightly for up to 30 minutes.
- Prepare the marinade: Grate the onions or place them in a food processor and process until liquid. Squeeze all the onion juice into a non-metallic bowl and discard any remaining onion pulp. Combine the onion juice and all the spices, together with the Quorn pieces, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a cling film and marinate (ideally) overnight in the fridge.
- To make the tomato sauce, pour in the olive oil in a sauce pan over the medium heat. Stir in the tomato paste, red pepper paste (if using) and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and combine well. Add the water then bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 10 minutes.
- Slice the pita bread in 3 cm x 3 cm (about 1”) squares and place on a tray. Warm in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Drizzle a little olive oil on a skillet and cook the Quorn pieces on high heat; for about 2 minutes each side (take care not to overcook). Also sauté the sliced tomatoes and peppers at the other side of the skillet, until they start to charcoal at edges.
- Once everything is cooked, plate your Vegan Iskender (Alexender) Kebap. Place the warm pide / pita bread slices on each plate. Spread the cooked Quorn pieces over the bread and pour over the tomato sauce. Place the sautéed tomatoes and peppers at one side and a dollop of yoghurt at the other side. Serve immediately with some fresh coriander and parsley. This recipe serves 4 - 5 generously.